“It’s just a feast,” says Adele Spalluto Hubbard as she reflects on her family’s personally vetted retail collection of handmade, hand-painted Italian ceramics. “They are exactly like a painting, hand done with a brush, painstakingly made with love, and that’s the charm.”
Thirty-five years ago, her father, Ben Spalluto, an Italian immigrant, started the Italian Pottery Outlet as a wholesale business that operated out of a warehouse in what’s now called the Funk Zone. That grew out of a family trip to Italy, when Spalluto approached Nino Parrucca, the famed ceramicist who presented works to everyone from Pope John Paul II to Bill Clinton. He suggested becoming the American distributor for Parrucca, who’s famous for his fish and octopus patterns. Parrucca agreed, and the business relationship still holds today.
As he expanded his product lines, Spalluto quickly needed a retail outlet. “People would knock on the door because they could see that we had nice things in there,” said Spalluto Hubbard of how demand fueled the storefront’s gradual takeover of the warehouse and then a move to State Street. Today, the store carries more than 30 lines of Italian ceramics with some original patterns dating back to the 1500s and others that were originally designed for the Medicis. “A lot of our patterns are older,” she said. “There’s quite a history.”
Spalluto retired from his business some years ago and recently passed away from lung complications exacerbated by the Thomas Fire ash. His personal paintings, which hang on the walls of the store, are cherished by his family.
Adele and Julie Spalluto, Ben’s two daughters, now run the retail business, which has become one of the largest collections of its kind. Their brother, Joe Spalluto, runs the wholesale warehouse and distribution, which ships to stores across the United States.
Despite their New World success, the Spallutos hold on to their father’s legacy by relying on Old World business protocols. “We start off with a big meal,” said Spalluto Hubbard of her trips to Italy and her family’s close relationships with their Italian suppliers. “Then we pick which different shapes and patterns we are going to get and then spend the whole afternoon just sitting at the table.”
They’ve been in the business so long that it’s generational all around. “My mom and dad were working with the parents; now the parents are all retired, and my sister and I are working with their children,” said Spalluto Hubbard, who also believes that the Italian Pottery Outlet is one of the oldest family-owned-and-operated businesses in Santa Barbara.
The retail store moved to its current location on State Street in 2008 when the oceanfront renovations disrupted their foot traffic on Helena Avenue. But Spalluto Hubbard says the new location carries its own problems. “A lot of locals don’t shop on State Street, and our city needs to figure that out,” she said.
She also feels the public has an impression that everything in their store is expensive. “We have so many price points,” she said, highlighting their various pottery patterns, table linens, cookbooks, toys, and volcanic stone tables. “There’s something here for everyone.”
One dedicated employee is Liz Stockdill, who’s worked on the floor at Italian Pottery Outlet for 10 years. Looking into the future, she hopes that the store remains a bulwark against Italian ceramic imitations that are coming from cheaper markets. “In places like Italy, where there is a legitimate art market, the idea isn’t to do it as cheaply as possible,” she said. “It’s to do it as beautifully and as Italian as possible.”
929 State St.; (877) 496-5599; italianpottery.com